Pardini’s Hermitage: Escape to a Magical Hideaway on the Island of Giglio

The unique and magical character of the family owned and run hotel, Pardini’s Hermitage, on the Island of Giglio off the Tuscan coast is hard to describe. Begin with the fact that you can only get there by boat (or by an arduous hike).

When I disembarked in the Cala Degli Alberi (Cay of the Trees), it was as if I’d been transported out of the modern world. There was crystal clear water, bright blue sky, warm sun and only the sound of water lapping against the granite rocks on the shore.

My time travel began during the 20-minute boat ride…

From the Port of Giglio…

As we sped along the southwestern side of the Island of Giglio passing a rugged landscape of rocky granite crags and Mediterranean brush.

Then, all at once, we arrived in a natural paradise…a steep hillside dotted with gardens, sunbathing spots, and just 13 rooms, a few hidden in bungalows like this one and most inside the original Pardini Villa.

The villa was completed by Frediano Pardini in 1953 as a summer retreat for his family, then, opened to paying guests in 1956. The stone villa remains exactly as it was then, with most of the upstairs bedrooms opening onto terraces with views of the sea.

But the bleak granite hillside has been softened by hundreds of flowers, bushes and trees, lovingly planted.

Speaking of love, the protagonists in the story of the Hermitage are Frediano Pardini’s son, Frederigo (known to everyone as Ghigo), and his wife Barbara. After decades of marriage and opening their home to guests, they still tease and smile at each other as they  must have done when they first met years ago. Being with them was one of the highlights of my stay. Their story is almost as incredible and improbable as the Hermitage itself.

Barbara’s family had lived on Giglio for generations but left after World War II. She was born and grew up in northern Italy and went to a French boarding school in Switzerland. One summer, when she was a teenager, her parents took her back to the island for a vacation at the Hermitage. Ghigo invited her out for a ride in his sailboat. He was an avid sailor and raced frequently in regattas.

At the end of the vacation, Ghigo and Barbara parted without exchanging details. Some years later, Ghigo went to Switzerland for an important international sailing regatta and won first prize. The prize money was in Swiss francs, which he wanted to change into Italian lira before going home. Through a family connection, he contacted a Swiss bank president to ask for assistance. The banker made an appointment for Ghigo to complete the transaction with his assistant, who turned out to be Barbara. They fell madly in love. This time for real. And Barbara came back to the island.

She is an outstanding cook and oversees the kitchen (where her nephew now assists her), the dining room and the villa. When I arrived, she showed me to a table on the terrace…

Where lunch arrived… tempura style fried island fish and vegetables along with a bowl of homemade pasta with cherry tomatoes and basil…accompanied by a glass of local white wine and Barbara’s bread. Her signature dishes are fresh, simple, homemade and delicious.

Most of the organic fruit and vegetables that Barbara uses in the kitchen come from the terraced gardens…

That Ghigo has carved out of the rock himself.

Barbara’s homemade bread is made with organic wheat that comes from 12 hectares of land that she and Ghigo own on the mainland…

And that Ghigo grinds into flour on the island using this gorgeous stone grinding mill.

The Hermitage is almost self-sufficient with Ghigo’s organic farm operation that includes donkeys (originally the only form of transport on the island that he now keeps mostly as pets), goats, hens and pigs. He has ingeniously created labyrinth of grazing pens on the steep hill above the villa.

There are fresh eggs daily, goats’ milk for goat’s cheese, yogurt and ricotta…

Meals are served out on the terrace of the villa or in the lovely old-fashioned dining room. The authentic elegance of the place is reflected in everything that Barbara serves.

Dinner was accompanied by wine that I had brought from Francesco Carfagna at Altura just  over the hill on the southwestern end of the island. Francesco and his wife Gabriella met in 1987 when they were both staying for a few days at Hermitage, and they remain close friends of Ghigo and Barbara.

The villa and the surrounding area holds many nooks and crannies where guests can disappear in privacy. To the left of the stairs in the villa, there is a library packed full of books as well as island and Hermitage history. (Note the gong on the right that calls guests to meals.)

There are numerous outcroppings for sunbathing and swimming in the sea, a secret swimming pool and hot tub full of seawater, and the cozy bedrooms that seem to have been frozen in time themselves.

Most visitors come to Hermitage to do nothing other than swim, eat, relax and read, but activities can be arranged on request.

Ghigo has a kiln ceramics studio and offers pottery classes (some vases below). He also teaches how to make things with rope (like the bowl below). There is an outdoor dancing platform. And Barbara offers cooking lessons.

Hikers can take to the narrow island paths and walk for miles in the Nature Park. It’s also possible to arrange for a day trip by boat to one of Giglio’s sandy beaches…

Or for a wine tasting and visit to Francesco Carfagna’s vineyards that hang above the sea in the middle of the island’s Nature Preserve.

As challenging as it was to climb the steps when I arrived at Hermitage….

The hardest thing to do was leave. Ghigo carried my bag down to the boat, and I promised to come back.

Yes, the Hermitage is a spectacularly beautiful natural paradise, the ideal place to go turn off your cell phone and relax into island rhythms. But it is not a typical “luxury resort” where you could be anywhere lying in the sun and swimming in the sea.

It is, instead, like my favorite wines, completely rooted in this place, this history and these people. There is an extraordinary shared sense of respect for the land, for Nature, for all that is cultivated, and all that is consumed. Ghigo and Barbara’s values are evident in all that they do.

Pardini’s Hermitage is open from from mid-April to early October. I visited in the end of May when the weather was splendid, and there were very few other guests. Now that it’s early September and the July/August heat and crowds have left the island, this would also be a perfect moment to go.

For advice on where to travel and what to see/do in Italy, contact Eleanor.

Pardini’s Hermitage – Cala degli Alberi – Isola del Giglio
Email: info@hermit.it
Tel.: +39 0564-809034 / +39 0564-1886469
Mob.: +39 348-8131868

September, 2017

 

 

 

 

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